The strikers' goals wrapped up victory in the 2011 Copa America for Tabarez's crack unit, who demonstrated the teamwork and fraternity which puts them above their local rivalsCOMMENT
By Daniel Edwards in the Estadio Monumental
"We have won our 15th Copa, it is something worth great praise. I dedicate this to all the players who won the 14 previous titles. Without them, we would not be here today."
The words of Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, typically modest and self-effacing as we have come to expect from one of the true unsung heroes of South American football. What this man has achieved, however, with the national team deserves to be known across the world. Because, as anyone who was in the Estadio Monumental for Sunday's Copa America final will testify, this Celeste side, inspired by sharp-shooters Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan, are truly remarkable.
Of course, when the newspapers are opened on Monday morning these two world class strikers will take the headlines, and rightly so. Liverpool striker Suarez was outstanding throughout the final against a dogged, frustrating Paraguay side; no ball was ever too far from reach to chase down, no shot too acute an angle to attempt, no team-mate ever ignored if in a more propitious position. The talent of the 24-year-old phenomenon, crowned the tournament's most valuable player and second-top scorer with four strikes, is no secret.
The effort and sacrifice he demonstrates in every second that he wears the famous Celeste jersey is just as noteworthy, because this is a player for whom national glory means everything.
As of course it does for his strike partner, the emblem of the national team and the hero of a 3-0 victory to down Gerardo Martino's men. Diego Forlan may have endured a difficult season at Atletico Madrid after the joy of the World Cup, coupled with an indifferent start to the Copa America but his class and, most importantly, the love of his people, never deserted him for a second.
Deadly Diego | Forlan scored twice to secure his first-ever title with the Celeste
"Ole, ole ole ole, Diego, Diegoooooooo," ran the chorus from the thousands of Uruguayans who somehow obtained tickets, scouring websites, dealing with strangers and doing everything to make sure they were there for their country's first final since 1999. And the blonde bombshell did not let them down. After Suarez put the Charrua in the ascendancy it was Diego who killed the game off, tucking away two goals with the aplomb we have come to expect from the man honoured as the previous World Cup's finest performer.
The first was a storming left-foot shot from the edge of the area, which left Justo Villar standing and put Uruguay within touching distance of the title. The second was simply delightful. A flowing counter-attack in the dying seconds of the game culminated in Suarez nodding the ball on to his senior partner, and with the unerring composure of a true great, Forlan threaded home past Villar, finishing the match as a contest and provoking a premature start to celebrations both on and off the pitch.
To focus on the two goalscorers, however, is an injustice. What separates Uruguay from their traditional rivals Argentina and Brazil, and the reason why they are now the most successful team both in South America and the world in terms of titles can be explained by just that; they are, first and foremost, a team.
The pure joy from every member of the squad when Forlan broke his post-World Cup scoring drought, the interaction with fans throughout the tournament, the ease and familiarity with which these players converse with each other; these are things that cannot be imposed. The Uruguayan fairytale is a product of five years of tireless effort on the part of 'El Maestro' Tabarez and his backroom team, five years of continuity and consistency that has not been repeated by their rivals.
The numbers do not lie: since Tabarez took over in 2006 four different men have sat on the bench for Argentina, three for Brazil, and no one would doubt now who currently occupies the top spot in local competition.
|"This triumph means everything... for one night, it will bring all Uruguayan people together."
- Tabarez salutes fans for their support
It has almost become a cliche to point out the miracles achieved by the tiny republic of three million people, but to appreciate the true scale of Uruguay's football renaissance this must be taken into account. Alongside the Copa America title, the Charrua are world U17 runners-up, finished second in the South American U20s and boasted Penarol in the Copa Libertadores final. The turnaround has been staggering, and cannot be praised enough.
A key part of this success is based in humility, and for this great virtue Copa celebrations will be short-lived. The World Cup qualifying campaign starts in earnest this October, with a double-header of matches against Bolivia and Paraguay sure to be a stern test. If this tournament has proved anything it is that the gap between South American nations has narrowed hugely, and Uruguay will have to be focused and at their best to make it to Brazil - the wounds of 2006 failure and the forced 2010 play-off still run very deep.
That is to come, however, and for now Forlan, Suarez, captain Diego Lugano and the 21 other heroes deserve to enjoy their moment of glory.
Luis Suarez said it best minutes after the final whistle confirmed their triumph. "Uruguay showed maturity, the will to win and the Charrua spirit, the unlimited sacrifice that every member of the team has within."
The 2011 Copa America champions may not have played beautiful, scintillating football at times, but when it came to effort, unity, heart and, of course, talent on the pitch, there was no team in the competition that could be worthier winners.